Adoption and Diffusion of the Innovation of GM Crops Essay

Advances witnessed in the technological and scientific fields have transformed the way people live and work. The biotechnological field, involving utilization of organisms or elements of an organism to produce products and services, has not been left behind either. GMO crops such as Bt cotton and Bt corn have undergone genetic material manipulation via genetic engineering. Presently, GM crops are widely accessible on the international market and are designed based on three core attributes: resistance to insect damage; tolerance to certain herbicides; and resistance to viral infections. Adoption of the innovation of GM crops has not been a smooth process. In the beginning, the innovation faced skepticism and attracted criticisms on the possible impact of GM crops on human health and the environment. The barrage of misleading information on the innovation compromised the uptake of the innovation in many parts of the world. However, extensive research on the efficacy of the GMO technology has confirmed safety of GM crops. Indeed, the US Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) has given GMO products a clean bill of health. The paper explores the process of adoption and diffusion of the innovation of GM crops technology with a strong focus on Bt cotton in India. Indian farmers initially experimented with the technology by planting Bt cotton on smaller acres, but later increased the scale of plantings, confirming broad acceptance of the technology owing to material benefits it delivers.

GM Crops Technology

Since time immemorial, a broad array of technologies has been developed in the farming sector, yet success stories have been few and far between. To a large extent, the uptake of the innovation of GM crops by millions of farmers, especially those in developing and least developed countries, has helped to pull millions of impoverished farmers out of the vicious cycle of poverty. The process of diffusion involves conveying of innovations through selected channels over time among constituents of a particular social system (Rogers, 2003). Adoption and diffusion of the GM crop technology is a phenomenal success (Scandizzo & Savastano, 2010). However, failures remain in areas where there is a social differentiation between resource-poor and wealthy farmers and where strong cultural attitudes suspicious of the innovation persist (Rogers, 2003).

Diffusion of innovation (DOI) theory offers a valuable insight into the process of innovation diffusion and adoption, as well as the difficulty of attaining the behavior change. This paper utilizes elements of the DOI to explore both success and failure in the spread of the GM crops technology. The paper establishes that capacity and motivation to adopt the innovation of GM crops differ depending on the level of experimentation and management skill. Adoption and diffusion of the GM crops technology as an incremental, supply-push innovation has helped farmers to reap a lot of benefits. The Indian experience confirms that the diffusion process does not orchestrate the loss of information quality, which implies that communication tends to manifest high fidelity among peers in close physical proximity.

Background

Biotechnology has a long history lasting thousands of years. Farmers have experimented with various ways of altering the genetic makeup of crops through cross-breeding. Research into the GMO technology gained traction around the 1800s with the rise of modern genetics, which allowed hybridization of plants (Atkinson, Glasner, & Lock, 2009). However, one of the biggest breakthroughs in the field occurred in the early 1950s when two scientists, Watson and Crick, succeeded in the creation of a double helix. In the 1970s, Monsanto successfully developed glyphosate-resistant crops (“Roundup Ready” seeds) (Atkinson, Glasner, & Lock, 2009).

In 1972, two US biochemists, Cohen and Boyer, developed a pioneering and ingenious technique that allowed cutting of the DNA into pieces and attaching the pieces to other organisms. The commercialization of biotechnology received a boost with the US Supreme Court’s ruling in 1982 that backed the patenting of GMOs. In 1988, scientists inserted genes into soybeans, creating glyphosate-tolerant soybeans, which made the crop cheaper and made it easier for farmers to control weeds (Atkinson, Glasner, & Lock, 2009). Some of the GM crops planted in various parts of the globe include soybean, maize, cotton, alfalfa, papaya, canola, tomato, and sweet pepper (Scandizzo & Savastano, 2010).

Diffusion of Innovation Theory

The diffusion of innovation theory attempts to illuminate how innovations (product or idea) gain momentum and diffuse via a particular social system or population. The outcome of the diffusion entails that individuals as a part of the social system embrace the innovation, product, or behavior. Successful diffusion implies that the individual must view the behavior, idea, or product as novel or innovative. Diffusion and adoption of an innovation rarely happens concurrently within a social system. Rogers (2003) confirms that early adopters of innovation exhibit divergent traits unlike late adopters. Therefore, traits of the audience ought to be taken into account when marketing an innovation or technology. According to Rogers (2003), there are five classes of adopters of innovation or technology, namely: (a) innovators (pioneers); (b) early adopters; (c) early majority; (d) late majority; and (e) laggards.

In today’s highly competitive market environment, firms are committed to the diffusion of the innovation of GM crops, being motivated by the incentive to gain a market share. The percentage of non-users presently embracing the GM crops technology is influenced by the proportion of those who have already adopted the technology. As such, delayed adoption of the technology mirrors uncertainty and apprehension that farmers have with account for future profit streams. The lagged adoption behavior of some growers originated from the uncertainty linked to the future demand for GM crops, being coupled with a slow spread of relevant information. The slow adoption of GM crops in some parts of the world can also be blamed on disparities in information access among farmers. Sometimes, farmers worry about perceived irreversible effects of diffusion and adoption of the GM crops.

Factors Impacting Diffusion and Adoption of the Innovation of GM Crops

Relative Advantage

A comparative advantage represents the level to which an innovation is considered to be an improvement to the idea that it supersedes. A relative advantage encapsulates an appraisal of strengths and gains enjoyed from the adoption of the innovation. As such, a potential adopter must first calculate comparative strengths heralded by the innovation (Pfeffermann, Minshall, & Mortara, 2013). Some of the factors that guide the decision to plant GM crops include costs and returns, as well as efficiencies in energy, labor, and inputs.

Compatibility

Compatibility represents the level to which an innovation aligns with existing values, needs of potential adopters, and past experiences (Rogers, 2003). The flourishing of any technology depends on the degree to which it fits into the individual’s needs, value system, and usage patterns. The adoption of incompatible innovation usually demands prior acceptance of s new value system, which necessitates compatibility with the individual’s lifestyle and cognitive characteristics. The slow uptake of GM crops in some parts of the world draws from the perceived incompatibility of the innovation with prevailing norms and values of the social system.

Complexity

Complexity represents the level to which technologies are considered as complex to utilize and understand. According to Rogers (2003), complex innovations manifest a decreased likelihood of acceptance and slow diffusion. Biotechnology technologies exhibit a lot of intricacies owing to the level of knowledge and sophistication required. In the case of adoption of Bt cotton in India, significant time has been needed for the adoption to take root since the technology is capital-intensive, a prominent factor influencing the decision to adopt it (Stone, 2007).

Trialability

Trialability represents the capacity to which an innovation can be piloted on a limited basis (Rogers, 2003). In most cases, innovations that can be readily piloted on installment plans are usually more speedily adopted as compared to technologies that are indivisible. Diffusion of GM crops has been fostered by their triability owing to the readiness to experiment before the adoption.

Observability

The term observability captures the degree to which results of an innovation are visible to others (Rogers, 2003). The benefits of GM crops are highly observable and have been the biggest motivating factor for adoption of the technology among farmers. Farmers seek higher returns bolstered by agronomic factors such as pest resistance, decreased pesticide spraying, and improved crop quality. Overall, innovations with a greater comparative advantage, trialability, comparability, observability, and less complexity are most likely to be embraced more speedily.

Adoption and Uptake Pathways of the Innovation of GM Crops: The Indian Experience

Innovations are intrinsically a result of interactions where knowledge diffuses between actors in a system. Uptake pathways, when approached from the communication perspective, represent the communication processes that direct introduction, adoption, propagation, and sharing of the GMO technology. Increasingly, biotechnology firms and knowledge organizations are collaborating with food producers to drive diffusion and innovations within the biotechnology industry (Atkinson, Glasner, & Lock, 2009). India harvested its first genetically modified crop in 2002 after half a decade of intense testing and debate. The genetically modified cotton (Bt cotton) had a gene derived from the Bt bacterium. The Bt cotton was produced via a collaboration of Mahyco (the Indian firm producing hybrid cotton seed) and its associate and partial owner, Monsanto, which a prominent US-based biotechnology firm producing the gene construct (Stone, 2007). Bt cotton’s success story originates from the willingness of Indian farmers to experiment and share knowledge. The Indian experience also confirms that technological advances such as GM crops radically and enduringly alter farmers’ practices or deskilling (Stone, 2007).

The Responsibility of Change Agents and Opinion Leaders in Diffusion Process

Both change agents and opinion leaders play a fundamental role in the spread of the GM crops technology. Change agents direct the uptake of the innovation since non-users look up to them to learn more about the innovation. Change agents such as local farmer leaders play the role of “ambassadors” of the innovation since they act as champions able to corroborate benefits heralded by the innovation. Change agents drive the need for change by triggering the intent to change within the client, which ultimately translates into action (Rogers, 2003). The uptake pathways are also strongly impacted by peer and kinship system. Fellow farmers play a fundamental role in the stabilization of the adoption to prevent discontinuance, as well as secure a relationship between clients (local farmers) and seed supplier.

According to Rogers (2003), the success or failure of the adoption and diffusion of technologies centers on the role played by both change agent and opinion leaders, especially when it comes to confirming real benefits derived from the technology. Since opinion leaders usually possess more education and access to resources, people look up to them for their insight. Field officers, including agricultural extension officials, are a rich source of information and management knowledge on the innovation-based judging by the technical assistance they can provide to adopters of the innovation. Some of the attributes that qualify a person to be deemed an opinion leader include the degree of technical ability, the individual’s conformity to the system’s norms, and perceived level of social accessibility (Rogers, 2003).

The Efficacy of Communication Strategies during the Adoption and Diffusion of the GM Crops

In its broad definition, the term communication delineates the process via which participants generate and transfer information between each other with the goal of striking a mutual understanding. Social marketing delineates a planned communication process that employs commercial marketing strategies to herald behavioral and social change. Communication plays an indispensable role in the dispersal of innovations from sources to clients. In addition, communication fuels the appetite for change within the target audience (Rogers, 2003).

Communication channels utilized during the diffusion of GM crops encompass interpersonal and mass communication channels (Pfeffermann, Minshall, & Mortara, 2013). Mass media foster a quick and efficient dissemination of information; however, when projected in the light of effectiveness, interpersonal communication channels remain the most rewarding, especially during active persuasion of non-users to alter their attitudes and embrace the new technology. Since the mass media do not have a direct influence on the target audience, the mass media messages should be directed to opinion leaders who should transfer information to their followers (Rogers, 2003).

In the case of India, the mass media had a limited impact on advancing adoption and diffusion of Bt cotton (Stone, 2007). However, interpersonal communication via face-to-face interactions furthered the spread of the innovation. Interpersonal communication with neighbors, peers, and opinion leaders proved to be crucial, especially in the persuasion of farmers to embrace new varieties of Bt cotton. Farmers who perceived Bt cotton as risky were most likely to obtain counsel from opinion leaders (Stone, 2007). Training sessions provided a platform to illustrate multiple benefits of the GM crops and convince potential holdouts to embrace the GMO technology. Seeking out groups of farmers to guarantee that farmers embraced the innovation concurrently was advantageous since it created a critical mass. According to Rogers (2003), a critical mass of adopters is required so as to convince the mainstream of the innovation’s efficacy.

Overall, marketing of the GMOs remains a challenge and a hard sell owing to the conflicting nature of the debate on the technology. GMO technology is most accepted, willingly and aggressively, by those to whom it gives a solution based on its capacity to remedy the inadequacy of old technologies. One of the effective strategies implemented to guide the diffusion of the innovation of GM crops includes utilization of tailored messages sensitive to the audience’s characteristics (Rogers, 2003). Tailoring of messages is necessary since people manifest divergent belief systems, education levels, and decision-making patterns that help to enhance communication exposure. The other strategy entails utilization of “ceiling effects” by conveying messages that are redundant or of minimal interest to audiences of a higher socio-economic status, but useful to people of a lower socio-economic status. The “ceiling effect” approach has been employed effectively in India via television programming for poor villagers.

The third strategy encompasses utilization of narrow-casting approaches. It is evident that mass communication channels such as radio and TV have been over-relied upon in the past during diffusion activities. The mass media communication is advantageous in reaching large audiences speedily and cost effectively, but the mass media fail to localize messages and effectively tailor messages for particular audiences. Narrow-casting approaches such as the use of audio-cassettes have helped to surmount this challenge by delivering tailored messages to highly specific audiences such as the rural poor who can readily control communication exposure. Lastly, traditional communication channels such as folk media (including storytellers and puppet shows) have proved their worth in the diffusion activities for the GM crops since they are perceived as credible and culturally acceptable (Rogers, 2003).

GM crops have altered agricultural practices of farmers across the world. Farmers across the globe have surmounted output and input uncertainty by adopting and propagating the GM crops. Increasingly, millions of farmers are planting the GM crops, being motivated by the desire to reap significant and sustainable socio-economic and environmental benefits. Notwithstanding, the GMO technology is still approached with fear, doubt, and uncertainty. Some critics contend that the diffusion of genes may harm the environment and the health of populations in the long run. However, in the light of the long history enjoyed by biotechnology, the debate over their efficacy and safety should not arise, save for questions on how they will influence long-term, sustainable agricultural efforts.
Most people rely on a subjective appraisal of an innovation communicated to them by peers who have previously adopted the innovation. Reliance on the conveyed experience of near-peers implies that success of the diffusion process hinges on modeling and confirmation by peers. Largely, interpersonal communication channels prove to be the most effective in persuading non-users to embrace the innovation. Social marketing techniques have been useful in convincing potential users to embrace the innovation. Since target audiences are rarely homogeneous in their discernment of new technologies, it is advisable to divide stakeholders into segments since people have different needs and possess diverse expectations of benefits they might derive from the innovation. The marketers of GM crops should concentrate on the fact that the technology presents benefits to both clients and producers in terms of higher yields, labor savings, and use of fewer pesticides.

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